UC Santa Cruz's Educational Partnership Center has been awarded two GEAR UP federal grants to serve students in Pajaro Valley and South Monterey County. The grants will fund UCSC's outreach to local underserved students and amount to a little over $2.3 million annually for both grants and close to $14 million dollars over the next six years.

"The GEAR UP College Access programs are vital to our efforts to support lower-income students in their aspirations of joining the University of California," said Richard Hughey, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. "I am particularly excited about UCSC’s opportunity to work with regional schools and to help students explore the possibilities of advanced education and student research on our campus."

The U.S. Department of Education received 262 eligible partnership applications, funding only 47 applications, 9 of which were in California. In total the federal government released $177.4 million for 66 grants under Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) that will help some 275,000 at-risk students to prepare for college and receive the support they need to achieve success in postsecondary education.

"We know innovative programs like GEAR UP that intervene early can make all the difference in whether young people go to college,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "These grants provide the mentoring, support, and financial aid that will give thousands of students a greater opportunity to achieve success in postsecondary education."

The grants will help fund student advising, tutoring, financial aid, college field trips and other college-going activities.  It also includes professional development for teachers as they adopt new classroom strategies proven to help students learn more effectively. The grants continue EPC’s particular focus on working with parents and families to create environments and support to help underserved, predominantly Latino students, reach UC or another college or University.

"The GEAR UP grants allow the campus to provide significant outreach to underserved students in need of help," said Rafael Granados, interim executive director of EPC. "The grants allow us to provide resources to help students and their parents gain a foothold on the path to college eligibility, which is especially important in these times of limited school resources."

Catherine Cooper, a professor in UCSC's Psychology Department, will serve as faculty liaison with other UCSC faculty and the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and will consult with the project and district leaders on adapting the assessment metrics as a planning tool for creating college-going cultures in and across school sites. She comes to the project from Bridging Multiple Worlds Alliance (BMWA), a network of state, national and international researchers, educators, and policymakers who work to open access to education from preschool through graduate school.

"We are looking forward to working with our partners in these schools and districts to widen the impact of these grants and help us create a college-going community for students and their families," said Maria Rocha-Ruiz, director of the GEAR UP programs at EPC. "This support allows us to build on the foundation of work already achieved in schools where our staff have already made significant impact."

Rodney Ogawa, professor of education and faculty director of UCSC's Center for Educational Research in the Interest of Underserved Students (CERIUS), will serve as the external evaluator for the project.

The funds are provided by the college access program GEAR UP, a federally funded program designed to help prepare middle and high school students for college. The competition during this round was extremely competitive with a little less than 18% of applicants receiving awards.

The Educational Partnership Center, now a program of the UCSC Undergraduate Education division, currently oversees three grants in the region, including a grant in North Monterey County which is in its final year of funding.  In 2009-2010, EPC served 2,559 students in the three areas. EPC plans to apply for another round of funding for the North Monterey County area next year and so continue to provide uninterrupted support for local schools in need.

EPC currently has about 50 staff, many working at high schools in these regions, as well as additional staff involved in other outreach and academic prep programs, such as EAOP, MESA, COSMOS, Transfer Partner Program, California Reading and Literature Project and UC College Prep, as well as a program, CalSOAP, serving Santa Clara County.  In 2009, the Educational Partnership Center merged with UC College Prep to provide online and on the ground assistance to underserved students.

Other recipients of GEAR UP grants in California include, UC Davis, Los Angeles Unified School District, Cal State Fullerton, Mira Costa Community College District, Marymount College, and Palomar Community College District.